The Environmental Protection Agency has kicked off its week of field hearings on its Clean Power Plan. Thousands have signed up to speak, but others got notices from the EPA saying they would not get a time slot to testify before agency officials.
The EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) seeks to cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. The plan has been backed by environmental groups and Democrats, but opposed by businesses and Republicans who say it will raise energy costs and force the shutdown of coal plants.
To get feedback on the rule, the agency announced four public field hearings across the country this week. The hearings will take place at federal buildings in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Denver and Washington, D.C.
Around 1,600 people have signed up to speak, but not everyone was allowed to have time to testify before agency officials. Some groups critical of the EPA’s agenda were not able to secure speaking slots despite signing up early.
Matthew Kandrach was surprised to find an email from the EPA eight days after he submitted a request for a time slot to speak. Kandrach is vice president at the free-market group the 60 Plus Association, which is opposed to the EPA’s CPP because it would raise power prices for seniors, many of whom live on fixed incomes.
“This is literally a life or death situation for seniors when they have to choose between food, medication and energy,” Kandrach told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Kandrach signed up for on July 9 for his group to speak at hearings in Washington, D.C. and Atlanta. After signing up for the hearing, he got no confirmation email, but was simply directed to a landing page which thanked him for his submission. With no confirmation email sent, the 60 Plus Association believed they had secured a time to speak.
But eight days later, Kandrach got a confusing email (which went into his spam folder) from an EPA official saying no time slots were left open to speak at the hearing in Atlanta. The EPA official said they would be able to attend the Atlanta hearing and could even request to have speaking time, but there was no guarantee such a request would be granted.
“Once you sign up why wouldn’t you get an instant response?” Kandrach asked TheDCNF. “Eight days later you get this blanket rejection. We went in thinking we had a spot, only to find out later the slots were actually filled already when we signed up.”
“Why didn’t they do even more sign-ups if they were too overwhelmed?” Kandrach added.
The free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute encountered a similar problem. It too signed up to speak on the record at the hearing in Washington, D.C., only to receive an email about two weeks later saying it would not get a speaking time slot.
“We signed up very shortly after we had the ability to do so,” CEI senior fellow William Yeatman told TheDCNF. “Ten to thirteen days later, we were told all the time slots were full and they could not accommodate us.”
“I’m very disappointed,” Yeatman added. “I thought we signed up early enough to get a spot.”
TheDCNF was also told by sources that the National Black Chamber of Commerce was not able to secure a speaking slot for at least one of the EPA hearings, but the group did not immediately respond to our request for comment. NBCC has warned that EPA’s carbon emissions cuts would raise prices, disproportionately harm minority businesses and communities.
“For low-income Americans, too many of whom are African-American, this rule could also be extremely harmful,” NBCC Harry Ashford wrote in the Hill newspaper. “With energy costs rising at a pace greater than the average family income, families, especially low-income families, are shouldering an enormous burden of the cost to power their homes and are often forced to make difficult decisions between other critical needs, like food and housing.”
“Many groups and individuals who hoped to provide their input at this week’s public hearings were not even able to secure a speaking slot, and the high demand for input, and growing chorus of opposition, reinforces the need to expand the public comment period and hold more hearings across the country, especially in areas most affected by these overreaching regulations,” said Laura Sheehan, spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
The EPA, however, said they were doing their best to allow everyone to speak.
“Contrary to what you have heard, we’re working to accommodate everyone who registered to speak,” an EPA spokesman told TheDCNF. “We expect to hear from about 1,600 people over the course of the week.”
The EPA hearings have already come under fire from both sides after the agency announced more stringent identification requirements for entering federal buildings where the CPP hearings were to be held.
EPA officials put out a notice saying that people with ID cards from certain states “must present an additional form of identification to enter the federal buildings where the public hearings will be held.” Such states include Kentucky, a major coal producing states where lawmakers have been critical of EPA regulations.
“This identification requirement at the locations you chose makes (my constituents’) attendance now virtually impossible,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky wrote to the EPA earlier this month.
The EPA says that acceptable forms of identification include federal IDs, passports, green cards and military IDs. But residents of some coal states aren’t likely to have secondary IDs. For example Kentuckians and West Virginians are much less likely to have passports than the rest of the country — 20 percent and 15 percent, as opposed to 37 percent for the country as a whole.
Even environmentalist were shocked by the agency’s stringent ID requirements. But the EPA has said it would work to make sure everyone who wanted to see the hearing was able to.
“We were pretty taken aback by it,” Alex DeSha, an organizer for the Sierra Club in eastern Kentucky, told E&E News. “A lot of people don’t know that this is even a thing.”
“It’s 200 bucks to get a passport expedited,” DeSha added. “It’s just one more step that will disenfranchise people from engaging in the public process.”
The coal industry and others have also criticized the EPA for the location of the public hearings — in space-restricted locations far away from coal country.
“It seems like there’s been a real adoption by the EPA to do it in very small rooms in certain cities often very far away from coal mining and coal usage,” Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, told E&E News.
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